FORT HOOD — When Brig. Gen. Laura Richardson was announced as the deputy commander of support for the 1st Cavalry Division last year, there was quite a buzz.
Headlines spread across the country as the woman who was selected as the first female to lead the U.S. Army Operational Test Command was now moving on, after just one year in command, to serve as the first female deputy commander of an Army division.
Adding interest to the story, the Colorado native took the job from “the other” Brig. Gen. Richardson, her husband James, who is now the deputy commander of III Corps and deployed to Afghanistan.
An aviator by trade, Richardson is just one of 19 female general officers in the Army, yet she said she felt no pressure joining America’s First Team with so many eyes watching.
“I know that’s not very exciting,” she said during an interview in her office overlooking Cooper Field on Wednesday. “It felt like the next job assignment, honestly, because ... I think that the expectation from everyone that we work with is that we get confident and competent people to do the job.”
With just 10 months at the division, Richardson is already saying farewell, as she, too, heads to Afghanistan to serve as the deputy chief of staff for strategic communication for the International Security Assistance Force.
During her farewell ceremony Friday morning, Richardson said when she joined the division, she asked advice of two people: former division commander, retired Gen. Robert Shoemaker; and her husband of 25 years.
Shoemaker told her during Vietnam, he traveled by helicopter to visit the troops, ensured they had supplies and everything they needed, and that cheered them up. Her husband told her to find something to focus on.
She seemed to combine the two, focusing on “maintenance of people and equipment” with a hands-on approach. Instead of observing systems from her office, Richardson preferred to get down into the motor pools to meet with soldiers, then spend about six or seven hours engaging the leadership of a unit.
“You can’t hide anything,” she said. “You can fake it for an hour, but you’re really going to find out what kind of dynamics the unit has and is there good, strong leadership and good systems by being there around them, talking to them and having them ask you questions.
“It’s all about learning. It’s the same thing I had to do when I was a battalion commander. I learned so much when my assistant division commander came down to do the same thing. All the prep I did I thought, ‘Wow, I know a lot about this unit, but I don’t know as much as I thought I knew.’ That’s why it was an easy program in terms of instituting in the division. As deputy commanding general you want to find something that can help move the division forward.”
Lt. Col. Jay Miseli, commander of 1st Brigade’s 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, said he recalled Richardson’s visit to his squadron’s motor pools.
“When we did the walk-through, I would do the initial engagement and then she would turn her attention to the young officer that owned that system and really invest in long-term development,” he said.
These soldier interactions are a part of her job Richardson said she will miss. At ISAF, she will spend the next year working with top commanders to hone the message of how the mission in Afghanistan is progressing.
“We just have great soldiers in our Army and it’s so neat to see that, because that’s really the foundation of what our Army is,” she said.
Over the course of their marriage, Richardson said she and her husband have been able to be stationed together, often in the same unit with the same boss. Their daughter, Lauren Richardson, now 24 and living in Virginia, was born in Korea, and before moving to Fort Hood, the couple served together at the Pentagon. Richardson admits to a bit of “healthy competition” between them.
“Jim’s a couple years older than me, so it’s not like we were peers. I think there would be a little bit more competition if we were peers, but he always stayed ahead of me,” she said.
More often, the two work together to help each other be better leaders. Because of herself and their daughter, Richardson said her husband is better at “relating experiences and talking to women soldiers.”
In Afghanistan, the Richardsons will be about 15 minutes apart, with James Richardson in Kabul and Laura Richardson at ISAF Headquarters.
Division commander Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi said he is proud to send someone of her talent and leadership forward.
“This family is a clear example of service, dedication and sacrifice as the Richardsons deploy together again,” he said.
As she prepares for the challenges of the new job — yet another office dominated by men — Richardson said she plans to jump right in.
“That’s the advice I give if I’m around some gals or service women,” she said.
Sometimes she sees young female officers trying too hard to fit into their group or section.
“The way you fit in at work is you jump in, you try to figure out your job, you try to learn and do the best you can. You try to be a contributing member of the team, because everybody’s got a job to do. If you can figure that out, that’s the best way to fit in at work.”